Share | Print | Email Stroke Risk Factors and Their Impact

Stroke is one of the most preventable of all life-threatening health problems. Risk factors for stroke fall into categories: those that can be controlled through lifestyle changes or medication and those that cannot. It's important to remember that having one or more uncontrollable stroke risk factors DOES NOT MAKE A PERSON FATED TO HAVE A STROKE. With proper attention to controllable stroke risk factors, the impact of uncontrollable factors can be greatly reduced.

Uncontrollable Stroke Risk Factors

The chances of having a stroke increase with age. Two-thirds of all strokes happen to people over the age of 65. Stroke risk doubles each decade past age 55.

Males have a slightly higher stroke risk than females. But, because women in the United States live longer than men, more stroke survivors over age 65 are women.

African Americans have a higher stroke risk than some other racial groups. Hispanics also appear to have increased risk of stroke, although not to the same degree as African Americans.

Family history of stroke or Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)

Risk is higher for people with a family history of stroke or TIA.

Personal history of diabetes
People with diabetes have a higher stroke risk. This may be due to circulation problems that diabetes can cause. In addition, brain damage may be more severe and extensive if blood sugar is high when a stroke happens. Treating diabetes may help delay the onset of complications that increase stroke risk. However, even if diabetics are on medication and have blood sugar under control, they may still have an increased stroke risk simply because they have diabetes.

Controllable Stroke Risk Factors

Treatable Medical Disorders that Increase Stroke Include:

High Blood Pressure
Having high blood pressure, or hypertension, increases stroke risk four to six times. It is the single most important controllable stroke risk factor. High blood pressure is often called "the silent killer" because people can have it and not realize it, since it often has no symptoms. Hypertension is a common condition, affecting approximately 50 million Americans, or two-third of the adult population. Blood pressure is high if it is consistently more than 140/90. Between 40 and 90 percent of all stroke patients had high blood pressure before their stroke. Hypertension puts stress on blood vessel walls and can lead to strokes from blood clots or hemorrhages.

Heart Disease
Coronary Heart Disease and High Cholesterol
High cholesterol can directly and indirectly increase stroke risk by clogging blood vessels and putting people at greater risk for coronary heart disease, another important stroke risk factor. A cholesterol level of more than 200 is considered "high". Cholesterol is soft, waxy fact in the bloodstream and in all of your body's cells. Your body naturally makes all the cholesterol it needs to form cell membranes, some hormones and vitamin D. In addition, certain foods (such as egg yolks, liver or foods fried in animal fat or tropical oils) contain cholesterol in the blood stream can lead to the buildup of plaque on artery walls, which can clog arties and cause a heart or brain attack.

Atrial fibrillation
Heart disease such as atrial fibrillation increases stroke risk up to six times. About 15 percent of all people who suffer stroke have a type of heart disease called artial fibrillation, or AF. Affecting more than 2 million Americans, AF is caused when the atrial (the two upper chambers of the heart) beat rapidly and unpredictably, producing an irregular heart beat. AF raises stroke risk because it allows blood to pool in the heart. When blood pools, it tends to form clots which can then be carried to the brain, causing a stroke.
Normally, all four chambers of the heart beat in the same rhythm somewhere between 60 and 100 times every minute. In someone with AF, the left atrium may beat as many as 400 times a minute. If left untreated, AF can increase stroke risk four to six times. Over time, untreated AF can also weaken the heart, leading to potential heart failure. The prevalence of AF increases with age. AF is found most often in people over age 65 and in people who have heart disease or thyroid disorders. Among people age 50 to 59 is linked to 6.7 percent of all strokes. By ages 80-89, AF is responsible for 36.2 percent of all strokes.

Personal history of stroke or TIA
People who have already had a stroke or TIA are at risk for having another. After suffering a stroke, men have a 42 percent chance of recurrent stroke within five years, and women have a 24 percent chance of having another stroke. TIAs are also strong predictors of stroke because 35 percent of those who experience TIAs have a stroke within five years.

Lifestyle Factors that Increase Stroke Risk Include:

Smoking doubles stroke risk. Smoking damages blood vessel walls, speed up the clogging of arteries by plaque deposits, raises blood pressure and makes the heart work harder.

Drinking more than two drinks per day may increase your risk for stroke by almost half. Recent studies have also suggested that light to moderate alcohol consumption ( up to two 4 oz. glasses of wine or the alcohol equivalent) may protect against stroke by raising levels of a naturally occurring "clot buster" in the blood. Alcohol is a drug and may interact with other medications. NSA's prevention guidelines recommend that if you currently don't already drink, don't start.

Excess weight puts a strain on the entire circulatory system. It also makes people more likely to have other stroke risk factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes.